Harnessing the Power of Music

Interim HealthCare Blogs
Posted: 9/11/2018 7:15 PM by Interim HealthCare

Contributed by Cynthia Mitchell RN

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”


Anyone who knows me knows that music plays a very prominent role in my life. (I’m pretty sure I started singing in the womb. Ha!) I am beyond blessed to come from a family of truly talented and brilliant musicians. Our musical heritage spans generations and genres, from classical to opera to college rock bands, from the cello to the sitar to the ukulele. Simply put, music is in my bones. And being a nurse, I am always excited to learn more about ways to use the power of music to enhance our health and well being.

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Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. Listening to music before an operation can even improve post-surgery outcomes! “There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” says a Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”

One can wonder how music can do so much good. According to Kim Innes, a professor of epidemiology at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, music seems to “selectively activate” neurochemical systems and brain structures associated with positive mood, emotion regulation, attention and memory in ways that promote beneficial changes. (Very cool)

With so much research and buzz about the positive influence of music, how about some ways to harness some of that power for yourself! Here are a few ideas:

-Listen to what your kids or grandkids listen to. Seriously. Try It!

Often we continue to listen to the same songs and genre of music that we did during our teens and 20s, and we generally avoid hearing anything that’s not from that era. But new music challenges the brain in a way that old music doesn’t. It might not feel pleasurable at first, but that unfamiliarity forces the brain to struggle to understand the new sound. “Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes a Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. And as a bonus, you just might find a new interest to share with a child or grandchild!

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Combine Journaling with Music

We’re all familiar with this phenomenon: You listen to a song, and a rush of associated emotions and memories come flooding back to you, and you’re immediately transported to a certain time when that song played a significant part in your life. Well, here’s why. Think of the brain like a “filing system”, if you will. Our brains take incoming information, process and make sense of that information, and “file” it in the form of a memory. At the same time, the action of processing music activates the brain’s entire limbic system. The limbic system is involved in processing of emotions and in controlling memory, specifically long term memory. Because of these factors, music can essentially be the “filing tab” the brain can use to pluck out a file (or memory). That’s why listening to a song from our youth can instantly bring us back to a memory so quickly and so fully. And a great way to use that is by using music in conjunction with journaling. Here’s how: reach for familiar music (especially if it stems from the same time period that you are trying to recall). Simply allow yourself to listen for a while. You will find that a memory will pop up here and there as you are listening. That’s where the journaling comes in. By journaling and writing down these memories, you activate your working memory as well. What a great brain work out! And the best part: you will have tangible keepsake, a piece of you to share with loved ones should you so choose.

Listen to your body as you are listening to music


Start by consciously choosing new and different genres of music and try listening. Pay attention to how your body reacts to different forms of music (ie: increase/decrease in respiratory rate, feeling calmer vs feeling energized vs feeling annoyed ha!). Try some classical, jazz, folk music, maybe some reggae, some celtic, perhaps a little rap music; the sky’s the limit! By experiencing new types of sounds and genres of music, you are challenging your brain to remain flexible and resilient. You may find new music that you really enjoy. And if you pay attention to your reactions, you will also come to find which types of music best help you to concentrate, to relax, or to motivate and engage you. Find what works for you.

Just plain listen!

With so many benefits provided by experiencing the magic of music, well, just plain do it. Just listen. No agenda, no purpose, no effort, no expectations. Just. Listen. In this fast paced, increasingly hectic roller coaster we call “Life”, I realize that finding time to do something for yourself often feels like a quest for the Holy Grail! Ha! But with all of the ways we have to listen to music these days, adding some positive mojo to your day is only a click away! So, turn on some tunes today and give yourself a mental high five for doing something for yourself!

Blessings friends and Happy Listening!

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“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

Billy Joel


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